Hello fellow MRKH Warriors! My name is Chrissy, I live in Maryland with my amazing husband of 7 years and we are just starting our journey to parenthood by way of Gestational Surrogacy, I wanted to share my journey so far with you.
After a devastating exploratory surgery when I was 14, that left me in a week long coma, and 30 days in ICU, I found out that I would never be able to carry my own children. The doctors did reassure me that adoption and gestational surrogacy were options, but they never talked about how difficult and expensive those options would be. What’s ironic is when teachers or family would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was the typical Teacher, or Doctor type Reponses. Mine was always a resounding “I want to be a Mom” which always got a smile and a “you will be” response.
When I married my soul mate at 21, we planned to wait maybe 3 years before looking into surrogacy, we had time, we thought… My older sister had always generously offered to be our carrier, but we didn’t know the first thing about the process. I regret not starting the research back then, I just assumed it would be an easy process…
In 2011, we had been married for 4 years, we were in a stable place in life, we had bought a house, we both had great careers – we were ready! So I made an appointment with a local very well known Reproductive Endocrinologist (IVF doctor). He ran a battery of tests and scans and gave us a brief overview of the IVF and Gestational Carrier process. I don’t remember most of the meeting, but the news wasn’t great. Even at my age, my ovarian reserve was low- likely due to my various gynecological surgeries, including significant blood loss and exposure to all of the scans throughout my life, and more shocking the process would probably cost us $100,000… Our health insurance didn’t cover any fertility treatments. We left his office feeling defeated and shattered.
After a few sad weeks I felt a new type of energy take over me, and a stronger resolve to achieve my dream of becoming a mother. I bought books, looked online for grants, and started researching the process. In late 2012 we finally had a good chunk of the money saved up to at least get started…then my sister got engaged and married….and wanted to grow her own family first. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister and was excited to get a new niece or nephew but how long we would have to wait before it “our turn.” Lee and I decided in the fall of 2013 we weren’t going to wait, yes it would cost more to “hire” a surrogate, but we knew we could make it happen and gosh darn it we were done waiting!!!
We applied for grants, posted ads on all of the available online surrogate matching sites, and even posted a plea on our Facebook pages hoping any of our friends or family would be willing or knew someone willing to carry for us.
Amazingly we were awarded a $5,000 Family Building Grant from the Cade Foundation, a local organization that provides grants for fertility treatments and/or adoption, for 2014! We were so excited, we went back to the RE to get the show on the road…but the doctor had changed his tune, he claimed the board thought my case was too risky and we shouldn’t move forward with an egg retrieval, he pushed the idea of donor eggs, but we weren’t ready to give up. I made an appointment with Dr. Lisa Kolp at John Hopkins, an MRKH specialist and surgeon that removed my painful uterine remnants in 2009. I wanted to get her opinion on my situation since she had actually seen inside of me before. When I asked her if she knew of any doctors that might be willing to do IVF with me, she responded “I do IVF!” I was shocked!! And even more, she was very willing to do the retrieval and saw no more risk than any other patient.
Even though we didn’t have a carrier lined it we thought it would be best to move forweard with the egg retrieval, for one thing I wasn’t getting any younger and secondly the grant had to be used during 2014.
On Tuesday May 27th 2014, we “officially” started our fertility treatments! Dr. Kolp wanted me to take a round of Clomid (a cheap ovary stimulating pill) to see how my ovaries would react, and to see if once they are “plump” she could locate them a little easier to plan for the method of retrieval. Since MRKHers don’t have a uterus to hold them in place sometime they tend to float up and back making the normal – vaginal- retrieval method impossible. After our initial consult she was pleased to find out that I have been tracking my Basal Body Temperature (BBT) since January so I knew exactly where I was in my cycle, this would help speed up the process instead of having to do blood work every day to figure it out. I was eager to finally DO something, but when it came time to take the pills on the first night, I nearly broke down. The always suppressed, but just waiting to pop out, nagging “Why me??” came back with a vengeance, but I put on my big girl pants and tried to make light of it by asking Lee to snap a picture of me taking them. Thankfully I had no bad side effects from the medicine, I heard the headaches and mood swings can be tortuous.
I attended the mandatory IVF Class, taught by the amazing IVF nurses at John Hopkins. I was the first to walk in the training room that morning and in front of each chair was a thick packet of papers, and various needles, vials and other not so fun looking items. I was instantly gulping for air. But I had known this came with the IVF territory, and it would be worth it. So once again, I put my big girl pants on and took feverish notes during the 2 hour class soaking in as much knowledge as I could.
After the class I met with Dr. Kolp privately to discuss her specific plan for us, since like always we aren’t the “norm.” I brought up a few things from the class I had questions on. This is where being your own patient advocate comes into play people!! I wrote down something the nurse said during the class “If your FSH is above 10 on Cycle Day 2, it might delay your treatment,” so I asked our RE about it…she said “hmm that’s a good question, since yours is already higher than that we’ll go ahead have you take medicine to lower it to avoid that.” See if I didn’t say something, we may have had a snafu resulting in lost time and money. Glad I’m a planner, did my research, knew my own stats and wasn’t afraid to speak up!
I decided to get acupuncture throughout the IVF process (and actually decided to continue it afterwards, it has amazing affects for me!). There have been countless studies showing that acupuncture can help egg production, increase blood flow, and raise pregnancy success rates, with or without IVF treatments. Online message boards are rife with tips and old wive’s tales claiming to help your fertility. Things like eating pinnacle core and brazil nuts and all sorts of things. One of those being a specific diet of foods—there are varying opinions on which is the best. I did choose the paleo diet to follow (only eating white meat, fruit, veggies nuts & beans …no dairy, gluten, alcohol, caffeine, preservatives, etc.) which I subjected myself to since for 3 months, In addition to losing nearly 10lbs I felt soooo much healthier, that has to be good for my eggs right? Lee was amazing making sure I have healthy snacks, and left overs for lunch each day. I couldn’t do this without him. It was nice to be “in control” on something in a process where you virtually have no control.
Since our insurance doesn’t cover fertility treatments we were constantly trying to find ways to save money throughout our journey – without cutting corners of course! We took out a 401K loan, maxed our HSA account contributions and opened a high interest yielding savings account to store our ‘baby funds.’ Another way we saved was buying the fertility medicine overseas, we saved about 50%!! Our biggest way to save yet was to submit all of the claims to insurance even though we “knew” they would get denied…well guess what!! They ended up covering about 60% of the $9,500 JHU quoted us for the retrieval. They seemed to cover all of the blood work, ultrasounds and anesthesiologist fee for the retrieval procedure, so really all of the non-IVF specific things they covered! We were shocked! I also compiled a list of other ways to save money here to help others out.
I started the required injections of medication on June 15th 2014. After a hilarious first injection (pretty much anything that could have gone wrong went wrong, but we laughed through it all) the rest were smooth sailing and really didn’t hurt as much as I thought.
Throughout the weeks that followed I had to do the very time sensitive injections in various places including the in-laws house, a bathroom stall at Nationals Baseball Stadium and a hotel in Philadelphia! I continued with them daily for 17 days (a total of 21 injections). I also drove over an hour to John Hopkins early in the morning every few days for blood work and ultrasounds to track my progress. The only real side effects I was having was extreme exhaustion and headaches. I even slept for 15 hours one night!!! So that’s great, most women complain of various horrible side effects.
On July 3rd 2014 we went to the surgery center for the Egg Retrieval. I wore my Lucky socks and tried to stay as relaxed as possible. They administered the anesthesia and I giggled as I fell asleep. The procedure itself was quick, only about 15 minutes!!! Dr. Kolp was able to retrieve 5 eggs, Lee did his part ;-) and we left before rush hour traffic set in! I was very sore for several days afterwards and tried to take it easy over the long holiday weekend. They were able to retrieve the eggs vaginally and here is a video showing the procedure if you’re interested (FYI it’s not me in the video!!)
To be honest, getting only 5 eggs isn’t that great for my age (28 years old at the time). Most women my age get at least 10, sometimes even 20!! But the doctor was confident that QUALITY over QUANTITY is the way to go, and that with my age, (and all the supplements and old wives tales I followed) all my eggs retrieved should be great quality egg.
The embryologist called us each day to let me know the progress and we were amazed that ALL 5 eggs fertilized easily and continued to grow for 5 days!! It was very nerve wrecking each morning, waiting for the call to see how they were doing especially when they were late calling 2 of the days. And having to wait the 5 days until they were safely frozen them was a test of our patience! Then we got the call that ALL 5 made it to the blastocyst stage and are now safely frozen away for our use later…aka our Frosties!!! Dr. Kolp even called me “Secretly Fertile” since all were great quality. It’s actually quite rare to have all eggs retrieved become fertilized and survive the 5 days, so yay us!
So now we are hoping that we find a carrier soon to “babysit” one of our embryos for 9 months!!
I would like to note that besides the initial timing of the IVF treatment/medication (due to not having a period to time it) and the method of retrieval due to location of your ovaries, IVF egg retrieval is no different for MRKH patients and non-MRKH patients. Mine was thought to be trickier due to abnormal scaring and vasculature from my previous surgeries, but I think that particular doctor was being overly cautious and was looking out more for his clinic’s success rates/statistics than my own experience and well being.
I have a website and blog www.ChrissyandLee.com and please feel free to message me through there with any questions!